Have you ever gone to a restaurant, a theater or other public space and noticed that some couples are chatting away happily while others sit in icy silence?
Even more to the point: have you been that couple who are together, yet miles apart?
If so, you’re clearly not alone. Couples face constant challenges when it comes to keeping good communication flowing between them. Many fall into bad habits like these:
- Responding to each other with anger and contempt
- Acting thin-skinned and defensive
- Criticizing each other’s thoughts, feelings or needs
- Tuning each other out – or just pretending to listen
You may be surprised to hear that these patterns are often just symptoms – a clue that there are deeper conflicts below the surface. Here are a few examples that marriage therapists see frequently in the couples they treat.
Partners often interpret everything through their own eyes.
In conversation, it’s so important to consider how the other person is feeling and what they may be thinking. Frequent interruptions are just one sign that we’re not tuned in to our partner. We are thinking only about what we want to say, not the point our loved one is trying to express.
Many studies show that men interrupt more than women, but I’ve seen couples where both have trouble allowing space for each other’s thoughts. The one being interrupted may think, “My partner doesn’t respect what I’m saying.” The one interrupting might be totally unaware that s/he is sending this negative message. By shifting awareness and seeing how our impulsive actions affect our partner, we can change how we relate to one another.
Another bad habit: trying to “win” all the time.
Your relationship is not a contest. And every argument that comes up should not be a competition to see who will come out on top. Instead, you need to think of conflict as a sign that you need to take on an important issue as a team. Both of you can gain from this opportunity if you cooperate and make sure emotions don’t get the better of you.
Winning really means having a solid, loving relationship. If you adopt a win/lose attitude, no one truly wins in the end.
The language we choose can foster communication – or shut it down.
Do you pay attention to the words you use when you speak to your partner? Language matters a LOT when it comes to keeping the lines of communication open. Practicing mindfulness in the way you choose your words means slowing down and thinking before you speak.
Sentences that start with “you” often sound like accusations, as in “You hurt me”. Or “You didn’t even care about what happened”. Likewise, the words “always” and “never” sound blameful: “You always do this to me”. “You never seem to be there when I need you”. These statements sound so final and so judgmental that they often shut down dialogue instead of opening the door to understanding.
Don’t let the silence build up. Let’s work together to heal your relationship
As the founder of Couple Counseling here in Las Vegas, I help couples build strong communication skills. It’s so easy to develop negative patterns that keep you apart – but the truth is, you don’t have to settle for anything less than a dynamic, supportive relationship. If you’re ready to heal the silence between you, give me a call today.